Here’s what you need to know about the ‘Freedom Convoy’ demonstration in Ottawa today

Ottawa police say “aggressive, illegal behavior” by demonstrators in the downtown core is limiting police enforcement capabilities during the third weekend of the “Freedom Convoy” demonstration.

Several roads and businesses in the downtown core remain closed on day 17 of the protests against COVID-19 public health measures, as hundreds of trucks and vehicles remain parked on Wellington Street and roads around Parliament Hill.

A concert stage with a giant TV screen is set up in front of Parliament Hill, a hot tub and a bouncy castle have been seen along Wellington Street and a DJ set up his truck at Rideau and Sussex Drive Saturday evening for a dance party. A group of demonstrators removed the security fences around the National War Memorial.

“Due to the volume of people and vehicles in the downtown core, police safely managed the movement of various convoys in and around Ottawa,” Ottawa Police said about operations on Saturday. “One 300 vehicle convoy and a 20-kilometer long car convoy from Quebec were safely managed.”

Police also reported the interception of a fuel transport into the downtown core.

Late Saturday evening, Ottawa police announced the establishment of an enhanced “Integrated Command Centre” with the OPP and RCMP to respond to the “significant influx of demonstrators into the Ottawa area and the escalation of the current occupation.”

“We expect that the ICC will result in a significantly enhanced ability of our police service to respond to the current situation in our city,” police said. “The ICC will allow us to make the most effective use of the additional resources our policing partners have provided to us.”

The announcement came hours after Ottawa police said it has a “plan to end this unlawful occupation”, but is waiting for the “necessary enforcements to execute it.”

A former Ottawa police chief says the service must try to keep a lid on things until the reinforcements arrive.

“I think that the Ottawa Police Service clearly is unable to execute the strategy that they’ve laid out because they do not have the resources in place to do it, and the best they can do is to keep a lid on it,” Charles Bordeleau told CTV News Ottawa.

“They key question is when they do get those additional resources will they keep with the same plan or will they alter their strategy in order to become more effective in executing what the community wants.

“The community wants these people to leave, and they really have to assess whether the current strategy they have in place is having that measurable impact and if that additional number of resources will continue to have an impact on executing their plan.”

As of 10:30 am Saturday, police had made 26 arrests, while police and Bylaw Services officers had issued 2,600 tickets. There are currently 140 criminal investigations underway into the demonstration.

Premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency in Ontario on Friday, saying it will give authorities more tools to help stop the “illegal occupation of Ottawa.” Fines up to $100,000 are possible for blocking critical infrastructure, including municipal and provincial roads and pedestrian walkways.

Bordeleau says the community is “fed up”, and wants to see “concrete measures put into place” to start ending the blockade downtown.

“I know they’ve laid a number of charges, laid a number of tickets but I don’t know if the financial impact is really having an impact on them wanting to leave,” Bordeleau said.

“There’s a core group of individuals that are bent on staying in the downtown core and continue to disrupt businesses and residences, and those individuals will eventually, will probably have to be removed by force by the police service.”

“BLUE-COLLAR CONVOY”

There are plans for a “Blue Collar Convoy” to roll into the downtown core from the east and west ends of Ottawa today.

According to the “Blue Collar Convoy” Facebook page, groups will leave Canadian Tire Center and RCGT Park at 9 am and drive downtown.

The Facebook page says the convoy is, “Blue-collar workers coming together in support of the Freedom Convoy and farmer convoy against the mandates.”

On Saturday, thousands of people participated in the “Community Solidarity March” at Lansdowne Park to express opposition to the ongoing demonstration downtown.

Signs included “Make Ottawa Boring Again” and “Ottawa Strong, Occupiers Out.”

DOWNTOWN OTTAWA

Crowds braved freezing cold temperatures and the threat of fines on Saturday to join in the demonstration.

“It’s fun here, everybody’s friendly,” Danny told CTV News Ottawa on Wellington Street.

While police have promised increased enforcement in the area, demonstrators say not much has changed.

“When they come, they come. The officers that have come here have been great,” Peter Doull said, adding he’s received a $110 fine for parking in a no parking zone.

“They’re really being respectful of the people and I thing the people are being quite respectful of them,” Mike Burton told CTV News Ottawa. “I don’t see any problems here at all. This is a peaceful protest.”

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